On Being Undiminished

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holdfast heart

Last night an anonymous man sent me a message comprised solely of hateful, demeaning comments about my body. The message came about, it seems, because he recognized me from my presence in my local Pride parade and wanted to wound me. I believe, though I am not certain, that it is someone who made a pass at me once and whom I turned down. The comments were designed to make me feel insecure and small. And I will not lie: they had this effect. The comments haunted my sleep and they have haunted my day today, not only because of what they said but because of the reality that someone I don’t even know would reach out to me with such cruelty and hatred.

But I think this sort of experience is all too common. It is the reality of being a woman with any kind of presence on the internet. No, let me amend that: it is the reality of being a woman with any kind of presence in the world. People (usually straight cis men, but not always) feel entitled to map, assess, characterize, and legitimize women’s bodies.

I am writing this because I want to own this experience and transform it. I will not let a stranger take my joy away from me. My presence in the Pride parade this year meant the world to me. I danced through the whole parade. Joyfully, blissfully. I danced because I was surrounded by people who mean a lot to me and because am in a place in my life where I am genuinely happy. I have a job that I adore, I write songs that fill my mind with beautiful electricity when I play them, I love the people in my life, and I love my presence in the world. All of the things are possible because of my body. My body is my voice, my movement, my heart, my hands, my bliss, all I am, and all I create.

I am 34 years old. It is probably only in the last couple of years that I have come to love my body. In my younger years, I struggled with, and overcame, an eating disorder. I internalized the message that my body would only be ‘right’ if I changed it in some way, reshaped it, cut away at its contours. I believe that I would have the right my place in the world only if I occupied less space in the world. And so I reshaped my body. I participated in a long, soft process of self-diminishment, of slowly disappearing like a shadow that slips under the door as the day moves on its axis.

But I am done with disappearing. I love my strong leg muscles, the curves of my stomach, and the feeling of the wind in my hair when I am dancing. I may never be completely free from the inner voices that tell me that I am not good enough, but I am finished with disappearing. I will dance in every parade that means something to me. I will occupy space, I will create, I will make change. I will not be silenced: neither my voice nor my footfalls as I move through the world with joy and presence. I am a formidable human being.

And to all the women (or people of any gender) who have been made to feel like your bodies are not good enough, who have been subject to cruel words and glances that cut you to pieces, I want to say this: I send you all my warm thoughts and love in solidarity that, if you wish, you can wrap around yourself and hold for a while. Come dancing with me, if you want to. In the streets, by the ocean, in songs sometimes, and sometimes in silence. We can undisappear, we can be whole, we can be undiminished.

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